Friday, October 26, 2012

What are you imitating?

I've been trawling through a lot of Islamic cartoons lately, as research for an article I wrote some time ago on the gendered messages in them. I found this cute little gem:

Panel 1 of this cartoon reminded me of a religious class I once attended, based on a book by Imam Nawawi called 'Al-Maqasid'. Because the word maqasid had been translated to as 'what was necessary to know', I thought I would be learning about the Quranic fundamentals of Islam (I was just getting into studying sources and original references then). Silly me.

Putting aside frustrating moments of insisting that the female students in the class should be allowed to read out loud from the book, I still remember fondly the class where chapter on taharah, or purity, was discussed.

The teacher (kept anonymous, obviously!) pointed out a recommendation from the book for us to take wudu' just after waking up. Similar to this cute little cartoon above, right? I asked him if there was any reason given for doing so. I was expecting some practical reason about how we were going to pray fajr anyway or a spiritual reason like refreshing ourselves, so imagine my shock when he recounted to me this instead:

"I read in some narrations that, upon hearing the words of the Prophet: "If one of you awaken from sleep, then he should not dip his hand in a container unless he washes his hand because he does not know where it was while he was sleeping," an innovator said: "I know where my hands went while in bed, so I do not have to fulfill this command!" 
Consequently, upon waking up the next morning, his hand - up to the forearm - was found inserted into his anus." ['Bustan al-'Arifin' by an-Nawawi; p. 94]

The reason for morning ablution was because some guy a long time ago woke up with his hand in his anus? If there was ever a mockery of religious education, this would pretty much win hands down, I think. While sitting in that class, I was thinking: these are the valuable gems he learned from scholars in Yemen?

[Digression: Interestingly enough, the source to the story above is one of many other stories used to illustrate the bad things that will happen to you if you don't blindly follow what the Prophet (supposedly) said. Which brings us to Panel 3 below.]

Panel 2 reminded me of an issue that I wrote about elsewhere, on (mis)using the verses of the Quran as a magical protective spell, instead of unleashing the magic of human potential when we actually strive towards Quranic ideals of social justice.

Panel 3 led me to think of the many discussions I've had about what exactly it is about the Prophet that we follow. Another teacher in some other class I used to attend used to say that he used miswak everyday (not sure if it was a replacement for or an alternative to his modern Western plastic toothbrush) and he would not feel confident about leaving the house if he didn't.

At seminars I used to see Malay men who had gone to study in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and upon coming back would start wearing triangular turbans, eyeliner, and thobes with various kinds of shawls over their shoulder -- the reason being that the Prophet dressed like this. And if we dress like this, or eat like him with 3 fingers, or sleep on-the-right-side-with-hand-under-cheek we'll get points!

I find it hard to understand how imitating the Prophet's daily habits = following his way of life. Surely it's to be compassionate to the old and the young (and even carry children during prayer!), to listen to all his followers, to be humble and not extravagant whether in consumption or in demeanour, to be kind to all his neighbours Muslim and non-Muslim -- in short, to live by the ideals set out in the Quran, the word of God.

Anyone seen any cartoons addressing these ideals instead?

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